The human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause an infection that can lead to warts almost anywhere over the body, including the tongue and mouth, if a person contracts it. Healthcare providers may prescribe one of several treatments to help remove them.

There are more than 150 types of HPV, which can be responsible for causing warts. Each variant of the virus attacks specific parts of the skin, from the feet to the mouth. HPV infections are so common, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that all American adults contract one during their lifetime.

This article discusses what tongue warts are, when a person may need treatment, and which medications are suitable for oral HPV.

Warts result from the HPV and are small bumps of flesh that can develop almost anywhere on the body. Different types of HPV usually cause warts in specific parts of the body. While warts typically do not hurt and go away by themselves, tongue warts can increase the risk of oral cancer.

However, not all tongue warts are the same — their differences are due to the various HPV strains. Some forms of tongue warts include:

  • Common warts: These are more common in children and can appear on the lips, gums, and tongue. Common warts often go away by themselves within 2 years.
  • Oral squamous papilloma: These warts are benign tumors that can affect people of all ages but are more common in adults who are 30–50 years of age. Oral squamous papilloma warts can appear on the soft palate, frenulum, and uvula.
  • Oral condyloma acuminata: These warts frequently spread through sexual activity, such as oral sex. Oral condyloma acuminata warts are pink or white, feature a cauliflower-like surface, and appear on the tongue, lips, or floor of the mouth.

The CDC states that currently, there is no treatment for HPV. However, there are treatments available for HPV symptoms and complications such as tongue warts, genital warts, and HPV-related precancer and cancer.

It is important to receive treatment as soon as possible to prevent further complications. People should contact their doctor for advice if they notice warts or believe they may have contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

The CDC also recommends that children and adults between 11–26 years of age receive the HPV vaccine to reduce the risk of cancer.

Tongue warts often get better without treatment. However, if they cause physical discomfort or concern or make it difficult to chew, people can speak with a doctor to discuss treatment options.

Healthcare professionals may conduct the following treatments:

  • Cryotherapy: Involves extremely cold substances, such as liquid nitrogen, to freeze and kill warts.
  • Electrosurgery: Uses a high-frequency electric current to burn off any warts.
  • Surgical removal: In some cases, healthcare providers may surgically remove warts from the body. People will usually undergo a local anesthetic that numbs the treatment area.
  • Trichloroacetic acid: Research shows that trichloroacetic acid is an effective treatment for oral warts. Three 30–60 second applications can remove warts within 45 days.
  • Imiquimod: While imiquimod is often a treatment for external warts, researchers have found this topical cream effective and well-tolerated in the mouth.

Nine out of ten HPV infections clear up without treatment within 2 years. However, even though they can take many years to develop, HPV infection can cause various cancers, including:

Oral HPV affects 10% of males and 3.6% of females. The CDC estimates that HPV causes 70% of cancer in the throat, tonsils, and base of the tongue.

Therefore, it is important to reduce the spread of HPV as much as possible. As well as receiving the HPV vaccine, people should practice safe sex by using a condom during oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Individuals should also undergo regular STI testing because not every person who contracts an STI will experience symptoms.

People may have the following questions about tongue warts.

How long do tongue warts last?

Tongue warts usually go away by themselves within 2 years. However, people should always contact a doctor if warts cause pain or discomfort.

How many cases of cancer does HPV cause in the United States each year?

The CDC estimates that HPV causes 36,000 cases of cancer each year.

If a person has had tongue warts, should their partner be treated?

If a person develops tongue warts, they and any sexual partners should discuss their sexual health with their healthcare providers, who may recommend further STI testing.

Most of the time, tongue warts get better on their own. However, people should speak with a doctor if warts become painful or they have concerns about their appearance. Other signs to consult with a healthcare professional include:

  • a swelling, or mass, in the neck
  • a sore throat that does not get better
  • having a hard time swallowing
  • unintentional weight loss
  • tongue warts that do not go away after 2 weeks

Tongue warts are bumps of flesh that usually go away on their own and typically do not cause discomfort. They are due to the HPV virus, which can spread through sexual activity such as oral, vaginal, or anal sex.

In some cases, HPV can lead to several cancers. Therefore, people who believe they may have contracted an HPV infection should discuss any concerns with their healthcare provider.